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### 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

Posted: Mon Jun 18, 2012 4:03 am UTC

"If things are too quiet, try asking a couple of friends whether "a couple" should always mean "two". As with the question of how many spaces should go after a period, it can turn acrimonious surprisingly fast unless all three of them agree."

Arg, head explode. He's trolling now, I swear.

### Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

Posted: Mon Jun 18, 2012 4:04 am UTC
I just use "a number" to cover any and all circumstances, even irrational and imaginary ones.

### Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

Posted: Mon Jun 18, 2012 4:05 am UTC
When six is too many and one is too few, it's CoupleDog on Radio Free Wasteland. Aroooooo!

### Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

Posted: Mon Jun 18, 2012 4:13 am UTC
What. Clearly:

a couple = 2
a few = 3
some = 4
several = 5
"a number" = ???

NO ONE ARGUE

### Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

Posted: Mon Jun 18, 2012 4:18 am UTC
My usage: "A couple" always means 2. And you should always put a couple of spaces after a period.

I also don't use "a few" and "several" in an overlapping manner. "A few" can mean 3-5; "several" can mean 6-10.

Mainly, though, I'll just give a numerical range, or I'll say something even less defined, like "a lot" or "a bunch".

### Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

Posted: Mon Jun 18, 2012 4:21 am UTC
A couple: 2-4
A few: 2-5
The above amounts when asked by the police how many beers you had: 6 or more
A handful: 3-6
Several: 4-11
A dozen: 11-15 (can be multiplicatively combined with a couple, a few or several)
A bunch: 6-200
A ton: 15-3000

### Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

Posted: Mon Jun 18, 2012 4:22 am UTC
faunablues wrote:What. Clearly:

a couple = 2
a few = 3
some = 4
several = 5
"a number" = ???

NO ONE ARGUE

Well there you have it. I guess now Randall needs to post an alternate comic.

### Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

Posted: Mon Jun 18, 2012 4:23 am UTC
somdude04 wrote:A ton: 15-3000

You may get a ton of disagreement on that.

### Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

Posted: Mon Jun 18, 2012 4:24 am UTC
"Unless all THREE of them agree." I see what you did there.

I have always thought of it as:
2-Couple (because, come on)
3-few (three letters)
4-some (four letters)
5-handful (five fingers)
6,7,8,9-several (in the area of SEVen)

Though I can't honestly say how well I stick to that in practice.

### Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

Posted: Mon Jun 18, 2012 4:27 am UTC
scottgoblue314 wrote:"Unless all THREE of them agree." I see what you did there.

Lol, that's exactly what I came here to say, too two.

### Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

Posted: Mon Jun 18, 2012 4:32 am UTC
I use "a couple" to refer to two. "A few" is three or an indeterminate number more.

As for the number of spaces after a period, typographers insist that one space is correct. The two-space thing only came about because manual typewriters used a monospace typesetting, and putting two spaces after a period made it easier to see the end of one sentence and the beginning of a new sentence. Even after electric typewriters and later word processors and computers allowed for more realistic kerning, people continued using two spaces, because that's the way they learned, and passed this on to their children.

### Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

Posted: Mon Jun 18, 2012 4:32 am UTC
Couple = 2(maybe 3)
A Few = 3-5
Several =6-10
A Dozen = 11-13
A Number = -∞-+∞
A Shitload = More than 10

### Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

Posted: Mon Jun 18, 2012 4:35 am UTC
A couple is two, because duh. Several is "around seven," because several. A few is between a couple and several. A handful is between several and a dozen.

Two spaces after a sentence is something left over from when we typed on typewriters and didn't have proper fonts. Now we have computers and proper, proportional fonts, so one space after a sentence is proper. My mom agrees, and she's an editor.

### Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

Posted: Mon Jun 18, 2012 4:37 am UTC
Many = 4
Many Many = 8
Lots = 16
A decent amount = 10-100
pi = Exactly three

### Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

Posted: Mon Jun 18, 2012 4:38 am UTC
Since u brung up word use, grammer is definately where it's at. Y should "couple" always mean to? Jus cuz a couplet ALWAYS BLOODY EQUALS TWO!! Did you'all freakin' skip larnin' 'bout Shakespeare an' poets?

When you couple a train, you're joining cars. Two at a time. When you couple with your significant other, how many people are with you? One, plus you = two. That's it. Anyone who thinks "couple" means something other than two is jus' plane wronng.

Oh, and they're can be one or two spaces after a period, depending on ur style - an' how often u wanna change teh sheets.

### Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

Posted: Mon Jun 18, 2012 4:41 am UTC
W_A wrote:Many = 4
Many Many = 8
Lots = 16
A decent amount = 10-100
pi = Exactly three

Funny, but pi = exactly three? That's irrational!

### Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

Posted: Mon Jun 18, 2012 4:43 am UTC
Few: 1-4
Several: 5-9
Pack: 10-19
Lots: 20-49
Horde: 50-99
Throng: 100-249
Swarm: 250-499
Zounds: 500-999
Legion: 1000 +

### Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

Posted: Mon Jun 18, 2012 4:43 am UTC
The Octospider aliens from Arthur C. Clarke's Rama series had a neat solution to this; they never used ambiguities. Any uncertain number was expressed as a range, e.g. 3.5±1.5. This conflict with humanity's more chaotic thought processes created a language barrier so great that they had to genetically engineer some human children to be able to communicate with our species.

### Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

Posted: Mon Jun 18, 2012 4:52 am UTC
I've taken pride in understanding "several" as "six give or take one or two"nd when I'd been drinking
And the time I ordered "a kukla scooks uh gutter kekon" at Baskin Robbins, ventriloquist style as I imagined, I expected to receive more than one and fewer than three skooks on my cone

### Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

Posted: Mon Jun 18, 2012 4:54 am UTC
GOOMHR...seriously just last night my friend and I were arguing if a couple of M&Ms is 2 M&Ms or a small handful.

### Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

Posted: Mon Jun 18, 2012 4:56 am UTC
I watch metric fucktons of Discovery Channel these days (subtitled in my country), which consists mostly of various reality-style shows these days, meaning it's featuring mostly regular folks instead of Carl Sagan style academic types. And the thing is, these people obviously use "a couple" as the simplest generic placeholder for all those above mentioned other words which they simply never use in colloquial circumstances. Which is to say, they obviously never mean to say precisely "two" when they use it (there's another simple word for that. It's called "two"). Therefore I find it incredibly aggravating to see it translated religiously as "two" every. damn. single. time. in the subtitles. No exceptions.

...In case you have doubts, these are the same professional fucktards who consistently translate "humidor" to our word meaning "humidifier". Can you tell I'm pissed yet...?

### Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

Posted: Mon Jun 18, 2012 4:57 am UTC
JDShu wrote:Few: 1-4
Several: 5-9
Pack: 10-19
Lots: 20-49
Horde: 50-99
Throng: 100-249
Swarm: 250-499
Zounds: 500-999
Legion: 1000 +

Was that taken from Heroes of Might and Magic? In any case, a couple is two, and the others are basically interchangeable. I usually use several for 5-10 and a few for 3 or 4. In practice, I basically never use a handful in speech, although I do use it in writing, generally for the range near 5. As for the spaces, I use two for two reasons: 1. old habits die hard, especially those with muscle memory, and 2. it makes college English papers longer.

### Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

Posted: Mon Jun 18, 2012 5:00 am UTC
There are much better sources for these units.

A "handful" is a unit of volume, not of quantity. A "handful" of marshmallows could be 5-7 (large) or 15-20 (small).

The difference between "a few" and "several" around 4, and is based on the number of objects that humans can generally distinguish on instant sight alone. See also http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Magica ... _Minus_Two

A "couple of minutes" on Google suggested "couple" came from the words meaning "Tie", or "Bond", which isn't really conclusive to me, but I'm going to continue referring to couple as equal to two. However, in proper context, I could also agree for purposes of argument that "2 + 2 = 5, for sufficiently high values of 2."

Electrical engineers - are there cases where this word does not refer to something connecting two [and only two] objects?

### Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

Posted: Mon Jun 18, 2012 5:00 am UTC
Also,

imperial fucktonne > metric fuckton

And, shit-ton(ne) < fuckton(ne).

### Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

Posted: Mon Jun 18, 2012 5:01 am UTC
So is a "married couple" always 2?

/trollbait

glasnt wrote:Also,

imperial fucktonne > metric fuckton

And, shit-ton(ne) < fuckton(ne).

and Belgium-ton(ne) >>> all

### Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

Posted: Mon Jun 18, 2012 5:17 am UTC
rhomboidal wrote:I just use "a number" to cover any and all circumstances, even irrational and imaginary ones.

I came in here to say pretty much this: using "a number" in this way was SOP in one of the worlds I used to hang out in.

I'm pretty sure "several" has to be more than two, though.

And I have a number of sources to prove it.

### Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

Posted: Mon Jun 18, 2012 5:44 am UTC
I lost my very first friend at age 3 over an argument whether 2 counted as "a few".

### Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

Posted: Mon Jun 18, 2012 5:52 am UTC
My opinion:

A couple = 2 or 3
A few = 3 or 4
Several = 3 to 6
A handful = 3 to 6

Some = More than one

A number = "I like padding sentences with extra words", because when you say "a number of elephants stampeded across the lawn", the first three words convey no information and are grammatically superfluous. Better to leave them out.

eidako wrote:The Octospider aliens from Arthur C. Clarke's Rama series had a neat solution to this; they never used ambiguities. Any uncertain number was expressed as a range, e.g. 3.5±1.5. This conflict with humanity's more chaotic thought processes created a language barrier so great that they had to genetically engineer some human children to be able to communicate with our species.

It's been so long since I read the series I can't remember any details. But if what you say is true, couldn't they just translate these terms as ranges? Eg: Several becomes 4±1 ?

### Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

Posted: Mon Jun 18, 2012 5:55 am UTC
This is one of my pet peeves working fast food.

"I want a couple McDoubles, a few large fries, and several drinks."

And then I just stare at them blankly for a few seconds before making them repeat it with actual numbers. You can't assume anything in this business, it just gets you in trouble.

### Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

Posted: Mon Jun 18, 2012 5:58 am UTC
JDShu wrote:Few: 1-4
Several: 5-9
Pack: 10-19
Lots: 20-49
Horde: 50-99
Throng: 100-249
Swarm: 250-499
Zounds: 500-999
Legion: 1000 +

And a s**tload fits in exactly where?

### Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

Posted: Mon Jun 18, 2012 5:58 am UTC
Weirdly enough, when I was a small child I was briefly under the impression that "several" specifically meant 3 of something, around the age when, having not been taught to count higher than 9, I "naturally" assumed 9 years was the human life span.

Unsurprisingly, my ex STILL thinks "a few" specifically means 3. Even after being corrected. At least a few times.

### Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

Posted: Mon Jun 18, 2012 6:02 am UTC
CatOfGrey wrote:There are much better sources for these units.

A "handful" is a unit of volume, not of quantity. A "handful" of marshmallows could be 5-7 (large) or 15-20 (small).

The difference between "a few" and "several" around 4, and is based on the number of objects that humans can generally distinguish on instant sight alone. See also http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Magica ... _Minus_Two

A "couple of minutes" on Google suggested "couple" came from the words meaning "Tie", or "Bond", which isn't really conclusive to me, but I'm going to continue referring to couple as equal to two. However, in proper context, I could also agree for purposes of argument that "2 + 2 = 5, for sufficiently high values of 2."

Electrical engineers - are there cases where this word does not refer to something connecting two [and only two] objects?

Exactly on the handful question. I mean you could have a handful of grains of sand. A handful of M&M's (as long as the brown ones are taken out). But a handful of anvils?

### Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

Posted: Mon Jun 18, 2012 6:12 am UTC
Whether to put two spaces after a period is not the same thing as whether the gap should be twice as big as a regular space. For some reason every article about why 1 space is right doesn't seem to realize this.

Nobody wants two full spaces (unless you're writing a paper), they want a slightly larger space. A smart typesetting program can know this and convert two spaces to the right size. What it can't do is know whether the space after a period ends a sentence or not. It's too bad that no software actually does this though.

### Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

Posted: Mon Jun 18, 2012 6:25 am UTC
San Fran Sam wrote:
CatOfGrey wrote:There are much better sources for these units.

A "handful" is a unit of volume, not of quantity. A "handful" of marshmallows could be 5-7 (large) or 15-20 (small).

The difference between "a few" and "several" around 4, and is based on the number of objects that humans can generally distinguish on instant sight alone. See also http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Magica ... _Minus_Two

A "couple of minutes" on Google suggested "couple" came from the words meaning "Tie", or "Bond", which isn't really conclusive to me, but I'm going to continue referring to couple as equal to two. However, in proper context, I could also agree for purposes of argument that "2 + 2 = 5, for sufficiently high values of 2."

Electrical engineers - are there cases where this word does not refer to something connecting two [and only two] objects?

Exactly on the handful question. I mean you could have a handful of grains of sand. A handful of M&M's (as long as the brown ones are taken out). But a handful of anvils?

Anvils? Easily! As long as they're made in Japan...

Yeah, ok, I know, the eighties called...

### Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

Posted: Mon Jun 18, 2012 6:26 am UTC
A couple means two. I will fight you on that. I don't care about the others.

### Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

Posted: Mon Jun 18, 2012 6:37 am UTC
RebeccaRGB wrote:Several is "around seven," because several.

I'd like to point out, though, the similarity is a coincidence. Several is actually related to sever, both ultimately from Latin for separating, and not the number.

I put two spaces after the period, but it doesn't matter. HTML has made its choice.

### Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

Posted: Mon Jun 18, 2012 6:40 am UTC
A couple is exactly two in my mind. Something to do with coupling things together.

A few is 3-4, some is >1, several is 4+.

Double spacing after a sentence is my MO. I know the argument that "modern" word processors insert an appropriate amount of spacing automatically, but I don't think most of our typing is done in that context. Or at least, not mine. And the Oxford comma will live in my heart now, always, and forever.

### Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

Posted: Mon Jun 18, 2012 6:47 am UTC
I've generally considered it like this:

• Two: Exactly two
• Pair: Exactly two; implies some sort of similarity or linkage of objects that "two" does not
• Couple: Usually two, sometimes three, almost never higher. In some contexts, means "exactly two", usually with further implied meanings. (since "two" and "pair" already cover the exact quantity, I consider "couple" to allow for some quantity flexibility, but significantly less than other vague measurements)
• Handful: Quantity varies with size of object; at least two
• A few: More than a couple, less than several
• Several: multiple, almost always more than two, often five or less, sometimes as high as seven

### Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

Posted: Mon Jun 18, 2012 6:51 am UTC
somdude04 wrote:A dozen: 11-15

Plasma Mongoose wrote:A Dozen = 11-13

A dozen is 12, unless you're a baker.

### Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

Posted: Mon Jun 18, 2012 6:52 am UTC
she-ra wrote:A couple means two. I will fight you on that. I don't care about the others.

No. The word for that exists, and it's "two". There's even a redundant backup for that, and it should be used whenever you would like to use "a couple" to mean exactly two: "a pair". That's the one you're thinking of - a couple is just another word for "arbitrary small but multiple number of". So yeah, bring it...!